Residents Say, Not in our Backyards

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February 16, 2011; Source: Yakima Herald-Republic | "You folks are not welcome here," one Prosser, Wash., resident said to representatives of Catholic Charities Housing Services at a hearing of the Prosser City Council. Catholic Charities has proposed to build a low-income housing development, with as many as 121 units built in phases over 10 years on an 11.6-acre parcel and some Prosser residents made their opinions clear at the public forum.

Catholic Charities officials suffered catcalls and invective as they tried to testify about their proposed development. They didn't simply wander into Prosser looking for a site; with seven other lower income complexes in the Lower Valley in its portfolio, Catholic Charities was invited four years ago by city officials to find a location for affordable housing. Previous attempts on other Prosser sites didn't work out, including an effort to construct units near Vinter's Village, a cluster of wineries. Catholic Charities cancelled that deal when local business people said that the low-income housing would "interfere with tourism growth."

Now, with an option to buy a site for the development, requiring approval to hook up to city water and sewer and to build at a higher density than is typical in Prosser, Catholic Charities needs City Council approval. The council and city staff support the development, believing that Prosser lags behind the rest of the region in making some accommodation for higher density housing as required by the state's Growth Management Act, but the planning commission, an appointed land-use advisory body, opposes the Catholic Charities plan.

The opposition seems pretty clearly tied to the economics of the residents, not land use questions. Opponents criticized the proposed project saying that it would attract crime, erode property values, and reduce property tax revenue because of the Catholic Charities nonprofit status. They also criticized the plan for "interfer(ing) with the city's image of small-town charm."

The meager voices in support of Catholic Charities include a Catholic priest who said that the city’s housing needs are a "moral obligation," and a resident who said that current housing conditions are "a shame and a black mark on our record." Don't think that this purportedly higher density project is a surprise obligation on the community. Prosser recently took 20 acres out of high-density development eligibility. "The project is not appropriate for Prosser anywhere," said another opponent.—Rick Cohen